Mick Hedgepeth scored a career-high 23 points and Belmont secured an invitation to the NCAA tournament with a record-setting 87-46 victory over North Florida on Saturday in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
With the victory, the Bruins became the first team in Division I this season to win 30 games. They also set a conference record for victories in a season.
“I don’t really know what to say about this team,” coach Rick Byrd said. “Thirty wins, was just not even thought about. For guys to agree and play as hard as they can for you in a new system, that we all just kind of fell into this year is so unselfish.”
Belmont (30-4), the regular season champion and top seed in the tournament, scored 16 of the first 20 points and never allowed North Florida (15-19), the No. 8 seed, to threaten. The lead was 18 at halftime and grew to as many as 42 in the closing seconds.
“The margin of the game is kind of unfortunate because they beat the three seed and two seed,” Byrd said. “ … Our guys will tell you that they play as hard and as tough as anybody we’ve played. I think they deserve a lot of credit.”
Hedgepeth scored eight of the Bruins’ first 10 points and finished 10-for-17 from the field. He also finished with nine rebounds and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
He was one of three Belmont players who finished in double figures. Eleven different players scored. Scott Saunders finished with 15 points, 13 in the second half, and Ian Clark added 10.
Clark and Jordan Campbell also were named to the all-tournament team.
Belmont set a tournament record with 23 offensive rebounds, which led to a 21-5 edge in second chance points.
“[Byrd] emphasized before the game [that] we had trouble at their place when we only won by two,” Campbell said. “We felt that we could go 10 to 12 players crashing the boards and luckily the ball bounced our way a couple of times and we got extra possessions.
“We just never let up and I think that’s what helped us win the game.”